You may well think that my compulsive interest in all things petrol combined with a busy family life and even giving the occasional driving lesson precludes any other pastimes and diversions. Not so. I also love movies. Running is also a big part of my life but I haven’t worked out how to work that into a post yet. (Any suggestions gratefully received).
I certainly don’t get to watch as many movies as either I’d like nor as I used to but when opportunity presents I grasp it with both hands. I enjoy most genres except maybe slasher, fantasy ( the only time I ever fell asleep in the cinema was watching the interminable turd of a movie called Lord of the Rings – I can’t remember which one but I think trees were running around when I woke up) and sci-fi (I went to see Return of the Jedi when I was 6 and have never seen a Star Wars/Trek (delete as appropriate) movie since).
Looking at the type of movie I tend not to like I see that perhaps the directors felt that there wasn’t really a home for the internal combustion engine in any of them. In my opinion a few carefully placed E-Types and the occasional turbinal whirr of a straight six would have immeasurably improved Peter Jackson’s borefest of a trilogy. At the very least it might have kept me awake. Whenever I’m watching a movie the moving metal on show greatly interests me and often makes or breaks my enjoyment. I’m not talking about the kind of film where the car is the actual star (think the Minis in The Italian Job or Steve McQueen’s Mustang in Bullitt (I could listen to that car chase daily and not tire of it)) and I’m trying very hard not to even think about the excrement that Hollywood currently considers to be a “car movie” (think Fast and Furious part 73, Torque, Redline or myriad other steaming pats.)
The type of film I’m thinking of is a good story embellished by well chosen cars that suit the scene or character that drives them. This at first glance would appear to be relatively easy but the deeper I delve into this subject the harder it is to find really good examples. There seems to be so many financial imperatives (most obviously paid product placement) that the narrative often suffers. The perfect example of what I’m talking about is the Bourne movies. We’ve all seen (and loved) them. In the first instalment, the “Identity” there is a brilliant car chase through Paris in which he drives a beaten up Mini that pulls to the left and feels “a little splashy” whatever the hell that means. However the car suits the scene perfectly, is totally plausible yet doesn’t completely take over. Due to the success of this first movie VW paid a ton of money to place a brand new mark V Golf GT and a facelifted mark 1 Toerag in the “Supremacy” outing. The deliberate placement and out of character nature of these cars jarred and seriously reduced my enjoyment of the film.
Equally a completely crap car is often the perfect choice for the character. A movie where the enjoyment quotient is significantly raised by careful car selection is 48 Hours. Perhaps not the most highbrow movie ever made but Eddie Murphy’s debut movie is great fun. The ’64 Cadillac DeVille truly is the “piece of shit sky blue Cadillac” Reggie Hammond describes it as but it suits both the movie and Jack’s personality perfectly. I grudgingly even began to like the car towards the end. You couldn’t picture him driving anything else. The Porsche 356 replica that Reggie pulled out of storage (although an absolute peach of a car) doesn’t quite fit for me.
The opening minutes of Drive with Ryan Gosling as the mysterious getaway driver for hire is a must watch scene. Great Q car (modified Chevy Impala with over 300 horses) providing a lovely lazy, grumbly soundtrack. You keep waiting for the chase to begin but he uses his wiles to outsmart the police and slips into a crowd after a ball game to disappear. I have to say though that I’m not so sure about newer Mustangs and even the 5.0 he uses at a botched liquor store raid doesn’t quite feel right. Who uses a three door car when you have to get someone in the back in a hurry? For this reason Drive doesn’t quite make my top three of “car movies where the cars are important but don’t actually take over”. Not the catchiest title I agree but you try thinking of a better way to phrase it.
Again not the most highbrow of movies (nor is it really a movie that would normally figure in any top three) but I really enjoyed Aiden Gillen as the baddie. You might be right in thinking that any movie starring an SEC would get on my list (and there is an element of truth there. It is impossible not be seduced by the heady mix of V8 muscle, German engineering and Bruno Sacco’s bluff yet incredibly desirable styling.) However the 1988 420 C126 is the perfect car for a slightly unstable undercover cop with a drink problem. The scene where 3 car thieves are strongly discouraged from stealing this car by a hurl wielding Jason Statham is definitely worth checking out.
2. Get Carter
Maybe, just maybe (and I don’t say this lightly) my favourite film of all time? It just gets better every time I see it. I love the train sequence when he is traveling home to Newcastle with the iconic and haunting theme music in the background and his finger flicking insistence on a “thin glass” for his pint. The cars used in this movie are impeccably chosen and completely believable.
Probably my favourite is the red mark 2 Jag driven by two heavies that gets its passenger door torn off by Carter’s mark 11 Cortina (the second perfectly cast car here).
We even see the car being driven minus it’s door on the bridge later on! I hate to lower the tone here (well actually that’s not strictly true) but when Carter is rescued from a scrape by a beautifully gloved and hosiered Glenda driving a Sunbeam Alpine we are treated to lingering shots of her pedalwork and cog swopping which is (and there’s no other way to say this) pretty fecking sexy.
- I Went Down
This is a low budget Irish movie released in 1997 which you may not even have heard of. I highly recommend checking it out though. You’ve heard the story a thousand times – two unwilling and unlikely characters thrown together on a road trip to collect a debt owing criminal and to meet a “friendly face” in bogland. Brendan Gleeson in an early role steals the show but the cars they drive are perfectly chosen.
We first see “Bunny” (Gleeson’s) character in an early mark two Prelude. I tend not to be the biggest fan of Japanese metal but there are more bright spots than you might think (check out my next post) amongst the dreary detritus that comes from the East and a mark two Prelude definitely shines bright in my eyes.
A botched filling station raid necessitates a change of car and completely out of left field Bunny pulls a wheezing Toyota Crown (or maybe a Cressida – confirmation from any eagle eyed readers would be great) which seems to have a top speed of approximately 22 M.P.H. before it promptly breaks down. It would be nice to think it was running the lovely 2.8 straight six (that also powered early Supras) but by the sound of it in the movie it might even have been the poxy 2.2 diesel. I can’t find a photo to do it justice so you’re going to have to check it yourself.
Next up is another of my all time favourite cars – a slightly dishevelled W116 Mercedes, in green. Definitely not the colour I would have chosen myself but a perfect fit for Git and Bunny. This is the car they spend most of their time in and there is some great dialogue and a chase scene (I’m deliberately overlooking the fact that they can’t outrun an old Bedford panel van).
However the best is left till last. They drive off into the metaphorical sunset (it’s actually the M1 just north of Dublin heading towards the airport) in a ’91 E32 7 series. These are exactly the type of cars that I would choose to steal if I were an inept criminal on a wild goose chase looking for a “friendly face” on bogland in the heart if the Irish countryside.
Feel free to comment with your movie embellishing cars. I would love to watch a film that out-carred I Went Down!
4 thoughts on “Lights, Carmera……”
A few more for consideration…
The gunmetal grey x5 in The Ghost Writer. Might be biased here but the car colour and German coldness fitted the cold winter scenery perfectly.
The massive GM truck in lethal weapon 2 which literally brought the house down.
Columbo’s battered old Peugeot.
I’m with you on all three Clex. I’m actually quite pissed off I never thought of Colombo though, it’s the perfect example of what I’m talking about.
This is the first time I’ve heard reference to I Went Down. The only thing I remember about it, apart from the bad joke ending, was the Mercedes. It was well cast.
You’re right that film makers are often very poor at placing cars: too cheap or unconvincingly glamorous usually.
There’s a film called An Education which features an early Bristol (401?) which might be worth a look just for the car.
In Gattaca you can see some electrically powered DSs and Rover P6s rolling about as well as Gore Vidal doing a hammy cameo.
I tend to avoid movies like Gattaca. I had no idea that P6s and DSs were to be found here. Will check it out. I’m off to google An Education.